Today, the Columbia region began responding to the possible threat of low-cost flier Southwest Airlines’ planned entry into the Charleston and Greenville markets.
The “Midlands Aviation Summit” played host to aviation expert Michael Boyd of Boyd Group International. Boyd discussed the air service challenges and opportunities facing Columbia. Sponsored by the ColumbiaMetropolitanAirport, Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports & Tourism, and the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, the event was attended by many area government and business leaders. Also gathered were people with interests in the success of the airport, including local travel agents, hoteliers, and restaurateurs.
Boyd rated Columbia as having very good air service, which is competitive to neighbors to Charleston and Greenville/Spartanburg. He additionally suggested that Southwest should not have an adverse impact on Columbia’s airport. However, Boyd emphasized that Columbia needs to make efforts to convince existing carriers such as Delta to improve service to CAE by employing larger jets.
Boyd reasoned that getting service from bigger jets will result in greater passenger access to and from Columbia. In Boyd’s view, more seats equals better and more frequent opportunities for passengers to move easily around the United States and the rest of the world. Boyd noted the more access passengers have to Columbia from places such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, as well Asia and Europe, the better the environment will be for outside investment to make its way to the Midlands.
According to Boyd, the majority of passengers presently flying in and out of Columbia are on 50 seat planes. Improving service will hinge on the carriers agreeing to use 75, 100, and 120 seat jets for service to Columbia.
For Columbia to improve its air service, the challenge will be to convince Midlands passengers presently using Charlotte, Atlanta, Greenville/Spartanburg, and Charleston to think about using Columbia first. In his words, the message for Midlands residents has to be: “Start your journey here.” Boyd recognized that for some, the conventional wisdom is that Columbia is more expensive than its competitors. However, in looking at average fares, Boyd stated the cost of flying in and out of Columbia is not significantly different than airports in neighboring markets. Thus, according to Boyd, the conditions exist for Midlands residents to organically grow and better Columbia’s airline service.
Business travel arguably makes up the largest percentage of airline traffic in and out Columbia. Accordingly, it is essential that Midlands businesses and their vendors/suppliers commit to using Columbia as their airport of choice for corporate travel. As well, because of their resource and influence, the entities also need to do what they can to promote the message to Midlands residents to start their journey in Columbia.